WBEZ | Fermilab http://www.wbez.org/tags/fermilab Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Huge magnetic ring coming to Chicago’s suburbs via the long road http://www.wbez.org/news/huge-magnetic-ring-coming-chicago%E2%80%99s-suburbs-long-road-107145 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Magic%20Ring%202_130513_LW.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="The muon ring at Brookhaven National Laboratories. The 50-foot ring will be removed from its casings and separated from many attachments, but cannot be dismantled for transport to Fermilab. (Brookhaven National Laboratory)" /></div><p>Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory in west suburban Batavia has a very unusual shipment coming this summer: an electromagnetic ring so wide its journey will shut down whole highways.</p><p>The ring, which looks like a huge hula-hoop, currently resides at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, where it&rsquo;s been used to conduct high-level experiments on tiny subatomic particles called muons.</p><p>&ldquo;We use them to probe the basic underlying structure of particle physics,&rdquo; said Chris Polly, a Fermilab physicist. &ldquo;What are the particles out there, how do they interact at the most fundamental level?&rdquo; But after being created by high-energy interactions between particles, they only exist for about two millionths of a second.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now, there&rsquo;s muons passing through you,&rdquo; Polly said. Those muons sometimes come to earth in &ldquo;showers&rdquo; produced by high-energy particle collisions in the earth&rsquo;s atmosphere; countless invisible muons shower down over wide areas. &ldquo;We sometimes build experiments that are a mile underground just because we&rsquo;re trying to get away from the muons.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite being common, muons are elusive and difficult to study. Because the miniscule particles exist so briefly before decaying into electrons and neutrinos, they have to be carefully suspended in a magnetic field for observation. That&rsquo;s where the magic muon ring comes in: the latest in muon experiments requires a very strong magnetic field, and the way to create that field is through a ring that&rsquo;s fifty feet in diameter, or about four highway lanes wide.</p><p>The muon ring&rsquo;s massive metal casings can be removed, but the ring itself has to stay in one piece and can&rsquo;t be tilted more than a few degrees. That means its journey to the western suburbs of Chicago this summer will begin with a barge trip down around the tip of Florida, through the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River to get to Chicago&rsquo;s waterways. The ring will then get off the boat at Lemont Port to be<a href="http://www.fnal.gov/pub/presspass/press_releases/2013/images/Muon-g-2-201305/Muon5-map-hires.jpg" target="_blank"> transported to the Batavia lab</a> using high-tech remote control carts. Between the carts, the ring and the entourage of police officers and scientists, the process is expected to shut down stretches of I-88 and I-355 overnight in July. <a href="http://www.fnal.gov/pub/presspass/press_releases/2013/images/Muon-g-2-201305/g-2_MoveMap_US-hires.jpg" target="_blank">The entire trip</a> is about 3,200 miles.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Magic%20Ring_130513_LW.jpg" style="height: 191px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="A model of the special cart that will transport the muon ring. The ring is taking a 3,200-mile trip from Long Island to Chicago’s Fermilab in summer of 2013. (Fermilab)" />Polly&rsquo;s excited about the ring&rsquo;s arrival because the previous Muon g-2 (pronounced &ldquo;g-minus-two&rdquo;) experiment at the Brookhaven Lab found inconsistencies not predicted by physicists. These anomalous observations could suggest the existence of a previously unknown particle; in other words, the Standard Model of physics could be proven to be incomplete.</div><p>The results of the Brookhaven experiment are suggestive but uncertain, mainly because a definitive answer would require 20 to 25 times more data than Brookhaven&rsquo;s researchers were able to gather with the technology available to them. Fermilab&rsquo;s advanced accelerator technology, some of which is left over from the now-defunct Tevatron, will allow the the lab to produce the necessary amount of muons for the experiment.</p><p>Fermilab broke ground last week on a new experimental lab to accompany the ring, and the ring won&rsquo;t be ready to experiment with until 2016. At that point, Polly says the experiment is expected to take three to four years to complete. But he says it&rsquo;s worth the wait.</p><p>&ldquo;It could be a harbinger of new physics,&rdquo; said Polly. &ldquo;There could be new particles in the universe.&rdquo;</p><p>The shipping cost for the magnetic donut is 2.5 million dollars, but Fermilab says that&rsquo;s just a tenth of what it would cost to build a new one.</p><p>You can watch a demonstration of the ring&rsquo;s mode of transportation and follow its actual movement this summer on the <a href="http://muon-g-2.fnal.gov/" target="_blank">Muon g-2 website</a>.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 13 May 2013 16:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/huge-magnetic-ring-coming-chicago%E2%80%99s-suburbs-long-road-107145 Does Illinois have a nuclear future? http://www.wbez.org/news/does-illinois-have-nuclear-future-106113 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F83427532&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>President Barack Obama was in town Friday visiting Argonne National Laboratory in the Western suburbs. The president talked about his &ldquo;all of the above&rdquo; energy policy, which includes alternative fuels and better batteries, but one area didn&#39;t get quite as much air time from the president: nuclear power.&nbsp;</p><p>Illinois continues to be the largest producer of nuclear power in the country.</p><p>And scientists at Argonne, and nearby Fermilab, want to keep it that way &ndash; by making nuclear part of our sustainable energy future.</p><p>But the future of nuclear here and across the country is shaky. After a long hiatus, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is licensing <a href="http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col/new-reactor-map.html" target="_blank">new reactors</a> again, but most of those are in the Southeast, and none are in Illinois.</p><p><strong>Reduce, reuse, recycle...</strong></p><p>The first rule of Argonne National Laboratories: Don&rsquo;t touch anything. When nuclear engineer Roger Blomquist took me on a tour, he was sure to show me the Geiger counter the employees use to check their hands and feet on the way in and out of the lab where Argonne builds specialized parts for research reactors.&nbsp;</p><p>I learned the second rule of Argonne pretty fast, too: Don&rsquo;t say <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-04/illinois-swims-in-atomic-waste-with-dump-unbuilt-bgov-barometer.html" target="_blank">nuclear waste</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea that it is waste is somebody&rsquo;s interpretation,&rdquo; Blomquist said. At Argonne,&nbsp;the radioactive stuff most of us know as nuclear waste is called spent nuclear fuel.</p><p>Part of the reason for the linguistic shift, says Blomquist, is that we could be recycling the materials in nuclear waste.</p><p>&ldquo;With enough recycling you can use 100 percent of the energy that&rsquo;s in the uranium ore you dig out of the ground,&rdquo; he said. Today&rsquo;s technology uses up just one percent of the power we could be getting out of uranium through nuclear fission. The rest comes back out of the reactors, mixed with a slush of more volatile, radioactive elements.</p><p>But recycling nuclear fuel is well within reach. Blomquist is working on the development of <a href="http://www.ne.anl.gov/research/ardt/afr/index.html" target="_blank">fast reactors</a>, a type of nuclear reactor that can run on reprocessed fuel and that he says would be smaller, more contained and safer than the reactors we currently use.&nbsp;</p><p>Just down the road at Fermilab, Argonne&rsquo;s sister laboratory, researcher and associate lab director Stuart Henderson agreed that the technology in use these days is way behind the times.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of what we do with spent nuclear fuel is sort of what Homer Simpson would do,&rdquo; Henderson said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not very sophisticated.&rdquo;</p><p>Reprocessing or <a href="http://www.ne.anl.gov/pdfs/12_Pyroprocessing_bro_5_12_v14[6].pdf" target="_blank">pyroprocessing</a> nuclear waste would allow us to take the pellets of radioactive fuel out of reactors, separate out the elements with the longest half-lives, and reuse them as fuel for reactors. The only thing left over would be the most radioactive parts of the waste, which decay in just a few hundred years.</p><p>Right now spent fuel has to be stored in pools or casks for hundreds of thousands of years.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7145_DSC_1405-scr.JPG" style="height: 208px; width: 310px; float: right;" title="(WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p>Henderson&rsquo;s working on another type of nuclear reactor that would deal with both waste and safety issues, a reactor powered by a particle accelerator.</p><p>Right now, what happens in a nuclear reactor is a <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Nuclear_chain_reaction.html" target="_blank">controlled chain reaction</a>: in short, particles crash into one another and cause other particles to crash into one another, generating an enormous amount of heat.</p><p>But once it starts, nuclear fission in a reactor can be hard to slow down.</p><p>In the new model, called a sub-critical reactor, there would be no chain reaction. A particle accelerator would shoot particles into the reactor to keep the reaction going.</p><p>So if you want to stop it, you just hit a switch and turn off the accelerator.</p><p>&ldquo;That means that the reactor is never capable of having a Chernobyl-type explosion,&rdquo; Henderson said. He&rsquo;s in touch with Belgian scientists who are building one of these reactors, called a sub-critical reactor; his job is to help build the high-powered accelerator that&rsquo;s capable of doing the job.</p><p><strong>If you build it</strong></p><p>So, what&rsquo;s the hangup? Where are these reactors of the future?</p><p>Both Blomquist and Henderson say having the technology is simply not enough to usher in a nuclear renaissance. We&rsquo;d need to start building these reactors of the future now if we wanted to be getting power from them in less than 15 years, and in the U.S., that&rsquo;s just not happening.</p><p>They both say the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a part of that equation &ndash; it&rsquo;s expensive and complex to license a reactor design, so much so that companies don&rsquo;t see an incentive to get involved with the grandiose designs of the future, no matter how much safer they might be. Here in Illinois, Exelon is looking to make its current reactors more efficient, but there are <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2012/03/29/exelons-nuclear-guy-no-new-nukes/?feed=rss_home" target="_blank">no plans for new reactors</a> in the state.</p><p>&ldquo;Nobody&rsquo;s gonna build any new ones, anytime soon,&rdquo; said Mark Cooper, a researcher at the University of Vermont who studies the <a href="http://www.vermontlaw.edu/Documents/NuclearSafetyandNuclearEconomics(0).pdf" target="_blank">safety and economics of nuclear power</a>.</p><p>Cooper says other options available like solar, wind, natural gas and coal remain far more economically viable than nuclear, and he suggests we should be investing more in other high tech energy innovations.</p><p>Plus, he says even the most advanced nuclear reactors still come with risks &ndash; and someone has to pay for insurance on those, too.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;As you operate them, you learn that you haven&rsquo;t done enough,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Mother nature throws you a curve, human beings don&rsquo;t behave properly, equipment breaks down.&rdquo;</p><p>Just two years after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan, those possibilities loom large, especially for people with nuclear power in their own backyards.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7148_DSC_1438-scr.JPG" style="height: 228px; width: 340px; float: left;" title="Ronda Bally puts on music at the Stumble Inn in Godley, down the road from the Braidwood plant. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /><strong>Living with nuclear power</strong></p><p>Braidwood, Ill. is only 50 miles from the high tech labs, but in a lot of ways, it&rsquo;s a different world. The fear of nuclear power is real here.</p><p>Exelon operates a nuclear plant at the edge of the small town, and in the 1990s the water was contaminated with radioactive tritium from the Braidwood plant. <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-01-26/news/0601260133_1_exelon-nuclear-exelon-corp-nuclear-plant" target="_blank">According to the Chicago Tribune</a>, Exelon didn&rsquo;t admit the mistake until years later.</p><p>The people in Braidwood have developed a sort of gallows humor about living near a reactor.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re gonna be the first one to go if you live by one,&rdquo; said resident Mike Franklin put it. In other words, you won&rsquo;t live to suffer through the devastating effects of radiation &ndash; and that&rsquo;s a good thing. Franklin, like a lot of people I talked to, grew up in Braidwood, and said he generally doesn&rsquo;t think much about the plant.</p><p>In a grocery store parking lot at Braidwood&rsquo;s main intersection, just up the road from the reactor, I caught an older man named Charles Crick unloading his grocery cart. He worked at the Braidwood plant.</p><p>&ldquo;I started in a nuke in 1971, and I worked in &lsquo;em until I retired,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Do I glow in the dark? No.&rdquo;</p><p>The Stumble Inn is a bar just a mile down the road the other way, in the 600-person town of Godley. The morning crowd at the Stumble Inn was small but enthusiastic - and none of them like living near the plant.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not for nuclear power,&rdquo; said Arthur Wallace, who goes by Slick here. Slick&rsquo;s son-in-law worked at the Braidwood reactor, and died of leukemia at age 44; some research suggests <a href="http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/nrsb/miscellaneous/Sauer_morning_present.pdf" target="_blank">links between leukemia and radiation</a>. His daughter worked in security at the plant.</p><p>&ldquo;They sent her home every once in awhile with her badge gettin&rsquo; too much rads. Too much radiation,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;She quit after 11 years.&rdquo;</p><p>The bartender, Ronda Bally, was a school bus driver for a long time, and recalled getting trainings from Exelon on how to pick up children and the elderly during a nuclear emergency.</p><p>&ldquo;My life is half over,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;My kids and my grandkids still have a lot of years left ahead of them, and if something as basic as a water supply could cause them serious health issues or even possible death, I have a problem with that.&rdquo;</p><p>A lot of people here say they&rsquo;d support safer nuclear power in a heartbeat. But Bally, like Slick, isn&rsquo;t sure she wants a nuclear future at all.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m kinda more interested in the whole wind farm thing that they&rsquo;re doing now&rdquo;, she said. &ldquo;Nuclear anything is very scary.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The nuclear future</strong></p><p>&ldquo;Nuclear power is the worst investment in the current environment,&rdquo; said Mark Cooper. &ldquo;You have gone through a series of these pursuits of a technological holy grail. And they have failed.&rdquo;</p><p>His point: scientists have known about safer nuclear for decades &ndash; and companies just aren&rsquo;t willing to spend the money to make it happen.</p><p>But Roger Blomquist at Argonne thinks it&rsquo;s only a matter of time before climate change eclipses the barriers to nuclear innovation.</p><p>&ldquo;Then getting rid of burning fossil fuels will become a national emergency,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And when that happens, that&rsquo;s when this technology will be blindingly obvious to most people.&rdquo;</p><p>At that point, he says, maybe living in the nuclear future won&rsquo;t seem so bad.</p><p>Follow <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">Lewis Wallace on Twitter.</a></p></p> Thu, 14 Mar 2013 23:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/does-illinois-have-nuclear-future-106113 Clever Apes: Top 5 Chicago science stories of 2011 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-28/clever-apes-top-5-chicago-science-stories-2011-95182 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-28/MDB logo 1.PNG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-28/MDB logo 1.PNG" style="width: 500px; height: 333px;" title=""></p><p>Here at Clever Apes, we’re big proponents of giving the people what they want. First off, I have decided that they want a one-hour Clever Apes special, with our favorite segments from 2011 all gift-wrapped into one apey package. I have chosen to be overwhelmed by a groundswell of public pressure for such a special, and have therefore answered the call that (I would guess) has rung out loud and clear. Click the “listen” button above to hear.</p><p>Secondly, based on our web traffic, what the people want are Top 5 and year-end lists. So here are our nominations for the top 5 Chicago science stories of 2011:</p><p><strong>5. Lab-grown neurons advance Alzheimer’s research</strong></p><p>A team at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has figured out <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientists-grow-neurons-stem-cells">how to grow a type of neuron </a>affected by Alzhemier’s Disease. Basal forebrain cholinergic neurons are crucial to retrieving memories. Thanks largely to the determination of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-16/clever-apes-brain-dish-83827">a grad student named Christopher Bissonette</a>, scientists can now make these cells to order based on human embryonic stem cells, or even artificially made stem cells. This could greatly speed up the testing of drug candidates, and could someday open up the possibility of transplanting healthy neurons into the stricken brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.</p><p><strong>4. New artifacts rewrite the history of human settlement in North America</strong></p><p>A major find in central Texas has largely overturned the long-dominant theory of when humans arrived in North America. For years, archaeologists believed that the first North Americans were the Clovis people, who showed up around 13,000 years ago. Cracks had been appearing in that theory, and the latest excavation may spell its end. The newly dated artifacts appear to be 15,000 years old. That insight comes partly from <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/anthropology/chicago-scientist-dates-artifacts-may-rewrite-ancient-history-84190">the lab of University of Illinois at Chicago professor Steven Forman</a>. He uses a technique called <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-07-26/clever-apes-15-trick-light-89684">luminescence dating</a>, which calculates when the last time deeply buried object was exposed to sunlight.</p><p><strong>3. Satellite discovers new worlds</strong></p><p>The <a href="http://kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/discoveries/">Kepler satellite mission </a>has had a huge year. To date it identified about 2,326 planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets. Recently it found the first known planet in the “habitable zone,” meaning it sits in a region where liquid water could exist. It also found the first known earth-sized planets, and earlier this year, a batch of multiple-planet solar systems, including <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/astronomy/chicago-area-scientist-helps-discover-new-solar-system">one with six planets</a>. Batavia-based astrophysicist Jason Steffen is part of the Kepler team, and did much of the computational work behind the finds. It has also, coincidentally, been a big year for Steffen, who got much attention for experimental results supporting <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/astrophysicist-shows-why-it-takes-so-long-board-plane-91161">his theory on the best way to board an airplane.</a></p><p><strong>2. Chicago River gets less icky</strong></p><p>The Chicago River, long relegated to glorified sewage ditch, is poised to get a lot less disgusting. The water reclamation district, under pressure from state and federal environmental regulators, has <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/reversing-course-water-agency-backs-chicago-river-cleanup-87524">agreed to start disinfecting the effluent </a>that makes up most of the river system’s water. That represents a big about-face for the agency and a victory for environmentalists and river users (though the cost to homeowners, who will finance much of the project, remains a big question mark). The agency also recently <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/water-distrct-curb-raw-sewage-discharges-94902">agreed to curb discharges of raw sewage </a>into the river by committing to a timetable for completing the deep tunnel and reservoir project and beefing up green infrastructure. It will still be years before you can swim in the river without a Purell bath afterwards, but this year clearly marked a basic shift in how the region thinks about its waterways.</p><p><strong>1. The passing of the Tevatron</strong></p><p>For decades, Fermilab’s big particle collider kept the Chicago area (and the United States) at the frontier of high-energy physics. Finally, this year, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-27/clever-apes-19-godspeed-tevatron-92526">scientists pulled the plug </a>on one of the most remarkable machines ever constructed. The Tevatron gave scientists a clear look at the top quark, a fundamental building block of matter that had long eluded detection. It yielded a trove of insights into how the tiniest particles behave, pushed forward the search for the mysterious Higgs Boson, advanced superconducting technology and seeded its eventual usurper, the Large Hadron Collider. There’s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/whats-ahead-fermilab-without-massive-particle-collider-tevatron">lots more cutting-edge research unfolding at Fermilab, </a>but its longtime crown jewel is now an artifact on the prairie.</p><p>There you have it, 2011. Clever Apes will be back next year with lots more from the fascinating, odd and deeply human world of Chicago-area science. As always, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p></p> Wed, 28 Dec 2011 20:21:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-28/clever-apes-top-5-chicago-science-stories-2011-95182 A ghostly sighting, but no clear sign of mystery particle http://www.wbez.org/story/ghostly-sighting-no-clear-sign-mystery-particle-94860 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-December/2011-12-13/Higgs event.gif" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists have caught a <a href="http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2011/PR25.11E.html">faint whiff of the Higgs boson</a>, the most sought-after prize in particle physics. But the findings are sketchy, dashing rumors that the particle has actually been found. If the Higgs boson were Bigfoot, today’s announcement would be like that grainy X-Files picture: worth a closer look, but maybe just a trick of the light.</p><p>Two teams at the European lab CERN say they’ve narrowed down the area where the Higgs could be hiding, and each team has seen a flash of data that could be the particle’s calling card. They’re about 97 percent confident, which is actually pretty low in physics terms.</p><p>West suburban Fermilab is sifting data from its own particle collider, which shut down this fall. Rob Roser, spokesman for the Fermilab team CDF, says the Fermilab data could partially corroborate CERN’s findings from the Large Hadron Collider, or rule them out.</p><p>“Between the LHC and the Tevatron, within a year I think we will know. It will run out of places to hide,” says Roser.</p><p>Roser says, for him, today’s most significant takeaway is confirmation that the LHC is working better than expected. CERN and Fermilab were in a race to discover the Higgs, until the European lab finally eclipsed its competitor this year. The Higgs is the last undiscovered building block predicted by the leading theory of the makeup of the universe.</p></p> Tue, 13 Dec 2011 16:41:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/ghostly-sighting-no-clear-sign-mystery-particle-94860 Top hair-raising research moments http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-05/top-hair-raising-research-moments-94614 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-07/Jehlik_1653.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-05/Bear pic.jpg" title="These scientists fend off bears, bats, elephants and tipsy locals to get their research done. (photo by Jason Smith)" width="600" height="400"></p><p>Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of moderating <a href="http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2011/11/28/exploring-world-extreme-science">a conversation among four scientists </a>from local institutions, all of whom worked in rather unconventional “labs:” a mine shaft half-a-mile underground, a volcanic crater in Siberia, a racetrack in rural America.</p><p>The subject of the event was “Xtreme research” (cue air guitars!). You can listen in full via the link above (skip to minute 11:00 if you want to bypass my gobbledygook and cut straight to the panel). It was a really lively discussion and a great window into how science happens in unusual places. But for brevity’s sake, I’m including a few highlights here:</p><p><a href="http://geosci.uchicago.edu/people/colman.shtml"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-05/Jehlik points.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 200px; float: left; margin-right: 10px; margin-left: 10px;" title="(photo by Jason Smith)"></a><strong>Hot foot</strong></p><p><a href="http://geosci.uchicago.edu/people/colman.shtml">Albert Colman</a> works in the geophysical sciences department at the University of Chicago, and he studies extremophiles – that is, organisms who like extreme conditions, such as boiling hot, oxygenless volcanic hot springs. His main venue is the Uzon Caldera in Kamchatka, off in far-eastern Russia. Beneath much of the ground there is basically boiling mud (think Yellowstone in Siberia), so nearly every step comes with the risk of punching through the crust into the inferno below. One time Colman was about to take a photograph there, and he stepped back just a bit too far, only to feel his booted foot sinking. This was quite perilous – like in quicksand, if you yank out your stuck foot you risk just working your way in deeper. Colman says it took a full minute to carefully extricate himself. When he did get it out, the footprint was already filling with boiling liquid.</p><p><strong>Bat brain</strong></p><p><a href="http://home.fnal.gov/%7Erameika/CV_RAR.pdf">R<img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-05/Gina smiles.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 200px; float: right; margin-right: 10px; margin-left: 10px;" title="(photo by Jason Smith)">egina Rameika</a> of Fermilab worked for a time in an underground lab in a Minnesota mineshaft. She studies the behavior of extremely elusive particles called neutrinos, which in this case are <a href="http://www-numi.fnal.gov/">best observed deep inside the earth. </a>Every trip in and out of the lab, including the construction of a 5,000-ton particle detector, had to go via one elevator, about 20-feet square. I asked Rameika what would be going through her mind on the way down, and she responded without hesitation, “bats.” The shaft is full of them, and she said her chief preoccupation on the way down is keeping them out of her hair.</p><p><strong>Day at the races</strong></p><p><a href="https://blogs.anl.gov/expertsguide/forrest-jehlik/">Forrest Jehlik </a>researches engine technology at Argonne National Laboratory, but much of his work takes place at speedways across the Midwest and South. He helps spearhead the <a href="http://www.circletrack.com/enginetech/ctrp_1005_project_green_dyno_test/viewall.html">“green racing” project</a>, which aims to test uber-efficient engine designs in the context of circle-track racing. (He quipped that while his colleagues may have to fend off bears and bats, he has to worry about Coors-fueled locals who favor Ford, while he brings a Chevy.) At one race he and another engineer volunteered for pit crew duty. These guys are gearheads, to be sure, but not professional racing crew members by any stretch. At one point they improvised a fix to wring a few more horsepower out of the engine, which diverted a cooling system from the brakes. At one pit stop, Jehliks says the brakes got so hot they were “cherry red.” He says they burned through his gloves, and his skin, as he worked to remove them.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.anl.gov/expertsguide/doug-sisterson/"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-05/Gabe tlks.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 200px; float: left; margin-right: 10px; margin-left: 10px;" title="(photo by Jason Smith)"></a><strong>Gimme shelter</strong></p><p><a href="https://blogs.anl.gov/expertsguide/doug-sisterson/">Doug Sisterson</a> makes a beeline for the places where models of the climate don’t match up with the actual data. This typically means remote spots from Barrow, Alaska to Papua New Guinea. He’s a research meteorologist at Argonne, and he brings truckloads of cutting-edge equipment into inaccessible locales, to figure out what’s going on with the climate. He talks about caravanning his gear to an isolated village on the edge of the Sahara in Niger – a place where “if you forgot a roll of duct tape, it’s a long way to a Radio Shack.” When he got there he discovered that the site was completely exposed to the elements. So he asked the impoverished locals if they could help him build a research building. They enthusiastically complied, building a sturdy complex to house millions of dollars of sophisticated equipment, made entirely of what appear to be mud bricks.</p><p>It’s not at all clear that the skill sets needed to be a careful physicist or geochemist are anything like the skills needed to live and work in such extreme environments. I asked the scientists how they squared that disconnect. They all agreed: The common denominator is passion.</p></p> Mon, 05 Dec 2011 22:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-05/top-hair-raising-research-moments-94614 Nobel winner, Fermilab founder, dead at 96 http://www.wbez.org/story/nobel-winner-fermilab-founder-dead-96-93826 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-November/2011-11-07/ramsey.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Norman Ramsey, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and one of the founders of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, died Friday at age 96. Over his career his discoveries helped transform concepts of time, ushering in the advent of super-accurate atomic clocks.</p><p>In the early 1960s, Ramsey was the founding president of the Universities Research Association, which ran what was then called the National Accelerator Laboratory for the U.S. government.</p><p>“Without his support and active participation, the lab would have had a hard time coming into existence,” said Ned Goldwasser, deputy director of the lab at the time of its founding.</p><p>Goldwasser, now an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Illinois, says Ramsey was a key link between the somewhat chaotic efforts to get the accelerator up and running in Batavia, and the politicians paying the bills in Washington.</p><p>"We had a number of serious technical problems as we were constituting the lab. We built big magnets in the ring that failed. There were people in Congress that said we were just a bunch of long-haired know-nothings and we couldn’t be trusted because of this gigantic mistake … Ramsey was an important person, if not the important person, to assuage the ruffled tempers of congressmen and the people at the Atomic Energy Commission.”</p><p>Fermilab archivist Adrienne Kolb says Ramsey was a steadying presence at the URA, returning to the post as president there several times over the years. “He assured Fermilab's continuity and had all the right answers to quiet any challenges,” Kolb wrote in an email.</p><p>Ramsey won the Nobel Prize in 1989, for his work on methods to measure the minute oscillations of atoms, which led to the invention of the atomic clock. That technology would literally redefine time. As of 1967, one second has been officially defined as 9,192,631,770 cycles of a cesium atom.</p><p>Ramsey also taught for four decades at Harvard and served on the Manhattan Project, the covert Allied effort to design and build a nuclear weapon.</p></p> Mon, 07 Nov 2011 22:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/nobel-winner-fermilab-founder-dead-96-93826 A final lap for Fermilab's particle collider http://www.wbez.org/story/final-lap-fermilabs-particle-collider-92629 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-29/lab model.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists at west suburban Fermilab will pull the plug Friday on their giant particle collider, the Tevatron.</p><p>When it began crashing particles together in 1985, the Tevatron became the world’s most powerful atom smasher. It revealed two of the 12 fundamental particles thought to make up the universe and offered clues to great mystery, such as why the universe is filled with matter instead of antimatter.</p><p>But last year Europe’s Large Hadron Collider overtook it, and the U.S. government denied a request to continue funding Fermilab’s machine for three more years.</p><p>Scientists who worked on the Tevatron say its ending is bittersweet.</p><p>“There is a certain sadness that ths wonderful story is coming to an end,” said Fermilab director Pier Oddone. “But this is really a celebration. This has been such a wonderful run. I wish the Large Hadron Collider in Europe to have as rich a life as the Tevatron has had here.”</p><p>Fermilab will still be crunching data from the Tevatron for at least another two years. Later, officials hope to build a new machine that would produce record numbers of particles, though at lower energies. Fermilab will also continue its programs in neutrino research and astrophysics.</p></p> Fri, 30 Sep 2011 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/final-lap-fermilabs-particle-collider-92629 Clever Apes #19: Godspeed, Tevatron http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-27/clever-apes-19-godspeed-tevatron-92526 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-28/AP03072905770.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="(WBEZ / Michael De Bonis)" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-27/Tevatron%20Memorial%20USE%20THIS%20ONE%20%282%29.png" style="width: 550px; height: 480px;" title="(WBEZ / Michael De Bonis)"></p><p>The <a href="http://www.fnal.gov/pub/science/accelerator/">Tevatron particle collider </a>shut down in September of 2011. Once the highest-energy collide in the world, it is survived by its descendants, the <a href="http://www.bnl.gov/rhic/">Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider </a>at Brookhaven, and the <a href="http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/LHC/LHC-en.html">Large Hadron Collider </a>at CERN. The Tevatron was 28.</p><p>If ever a machine was deserving of an obituary, it is the Tevatron. Housed at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, the Tevatron spent decades at the frontier of science. Its collisions offered glimpses into nature’s secret places, on the tiniest scales and highest energies ever probed.</p><p><strong><span style="font-size: 8px;">Listen to the episode: </span></strong></p><p><span class="filefield_audio_insert_player" href="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_19_Godspeed_Tevatron.mp3" id="filefield_audio_insert_player-117208">Clever_Apes_19_Godspeed_Tevatron.mp3</span></p><p>But last year the frontier moved off the Illinois prairie, over to Europe, where the LHC has dwarfed the Tevatron into obsolescence. Nearly anything the Tevatron could do, the LHC can do better. And so the government pulled the plug, with the Tevatron going dark on Friday, September 30. In this installment of Clever Apes, we take a moment to <a href="http://www.fnal.gov/pub/tevatron/milestones/interactive-timeline.html">remember the good times </a>– the <a href="http://www.hep.princeton.edu/mumu/nuphys/072100sci-atoms-neutrinos.html">tau neutrinos</a>, the <a href="http://tomato.fnal.gov/ops/records.php">luminosity records</a>, the <a href="http://today.slac.stanford.edu/feature/matter-antimatter-oscillations.asp">strange-B oscillations</a> … and of course, the one thing normal people may have actually heard of, the <a href="http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/cms/?pid=1000085">top quark</a>. That was the Tevatron’s high water mark, discovering the linchpin of the <a href="http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/Science/StandardModel-en.html">Standard Model </a>– a kind of periodic table of fundamental particles and forces.</p><p><img alt="The control room crew runs all of Fermilab's big machines. (WBEZ / Gabriel Spitz" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-27/Control room.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="The control room crew runs all of Fermilab's big machines. (WBEZ / Gabriel Spitzer)"></p><p>And we consider the real value of basic science. Quarks don’t end recessions. Neutrino oscillations aren’t going to solve global warming. But there are a few benefits that belong on the balance sheet in the Teavtron’s favor. One is that, like NASA, pushing at the boundaries of our knowledge tends to bring ancillary benefits. In Fermilab’s case, <a href="http://scienceinsociety.northwestern.edu/content/articles/2008/schellman/from-a-physicists-mind">magnetic resonance imaging </a>(MRI) and <a href="http://www.protons.com/proton-therapy/">specialized radiation therapy </a>for cancer are part of the accelerator’s lineage.</p><p>But more basic than that, is that this kind of research into the nature of nature seems like part of the human condition – lab director Pier Oddone calls it the “inquiry gene.” Another Fermilab director – founder Robert Wilson – said it incredibly eloquently in 1969. He was <a href="http://history.fnal.gov/testimony.html">testifying before Congress, </a>and it feels so appropriate for this week that I include it here in its entirety:</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything connected in the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?</p><p>DR. WILSON. No, sir; I do not believe so.</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. Nothing at all?</p><p>DR. WILSON. Nothing at all.</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. It has no value in that respect?</p><p>DR. WILSON. It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things. It has nothing to do with the military. I am sorry.</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. Don't be sorry for it.</p><p>DR. WILSON. I am not, but I cannot in honesty say it has any such application.</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything here that projects us in a position of being competitive with the Russians, with regard to this race?</p><p>DR. WILSON. Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about. In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country, but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.</p><p><img alt="Fermilab's Wilson Hall rises above the Illinois prairie. (WBEZ / Gabriel Spitzer" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-27/IMG_1245.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="Fermilab's Wilson Hall rises above the Illinois prairie. (WBEZ / Gabriel Spitzer)"></p></p> Tue, 27 Sep 2011 22:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-27/clever-apes-19-godspeed-tevatron-92526 Fermilab will chase supposed faster-than-light particles http://www.wbez.org/story/fermilab-will-chase-supposed-faster-light-particles-92433 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-25/Rameiks.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists at west suburban Fermilab are already working to scrutinize a potential scientific discovery widely believed to be impossible. European physicists announced last week <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/24/science/24speed.html">they clocked something traveling faster than the speed of light. </a>If true, the observation from the European lab CERN would turn much of physics inside out, as the speed of light is thought to be an absolute limit on how fast anything in the universe can travel.</p><p>The <a href="http://www-numi.fnal.gov/">MINOS experiment at Fermilab </a>may be the best equipped in the world to test CERN’s results, and its spokesman says they’re hopping to it.</p><p>“Obviously it’s a very high priority,” said Robert Plunkett. “Anything that makes a statement about the foundations of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, that’s one of the two underpinnings of all 20th century physics. So it has to be scrutinized and of course it’s urgent to attempt to reproduce the results as soon as possible.”</p><p>Plunkett said his team is already at work refining some of their old results to see if they agree with the CERN findings. Then, upgrades should allow the Fermilab scientists to get much more precise measurements within two or three years.</p><p>The CERN results concern neutrinos, an extremely light particle that passes right through most matter. Scientists say there are lots of uncertainties around the creation of these particles in the lab, making it difficult to keep accurate time in a race between neutrinos and light. Plunkett and others say they are withholding judgment until someone verifies the observation.</p></p> Mon, 26 Sep 2011 02:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/fermilab-will-chase-supposed-faster-light-particles-92433 A final smash for America's giant particle collider http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-05/final-smash-americas-giant-particle-collider-91536 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-06/nightaerial_Tevatron_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A physicist named Dmitri Denisov walks up wooden steps to the top of something that looks sort of like an abandoned railroad bed.</p><p>"Wow, look, it's beautiful," Denisov says, gazing out at a pond. "I didn't even know about these flowers."</p><p>The tall mound of dirt he's standing on stretches off into the distance, forming a huge circle nearly four miles around — and the inside of this ring is filled with acres of restored prairie.</p><p>"The first time I came here was 1989," recalls Denisov. At the time, he was a young scientist from the Soviet Union. "I remember sort of coming to this point and looking and saying, 'Wow, that's really a big machine!'"</p><p>The machine, which Denisov is standing on, is called the Tevatron. Beneath this earthen berm is a tunnel that serves as a high-tech racetrack for protons and anti-protons. They accelerate to almost the speed of light, and then slam together in collisions that spew out the hidden particles that make up matter.</p><p><strong>No longer on top</strong></p><p>The Tevatron has been the pride of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago, for a quarter of a century. But at the end of this month, the Tevatron is shutting down.</p><p>It's no longer the most powerful machine in the world for smashing bits of atoms together so that scientists can search through the sub-atomic rubble.</p><p>That title belongs to the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. Its circular racetrack for particles is 17 miles around, and this new collider is now the big draw for the world's physicists.</p><p>"And many people, including people who work here at the Tevatron, are moving where the science is," Denisov says.</p><p>In the past, the Tevatron has been the destination for scientists who wanted to probe the building blocks of the universe. In one windowless control room, a number of clocks hang on a cinderblock wall — that's because so many scientists came here from abroad that they needed a quick way to check the time zone back home in case they wanted to call friends or family.</p><p>In the Tevatron's control rooms, subatomic collisions are monitored 24 hours a day. This is where the elusive "top quark" was discovered. And scientists here do still hope to make one last big discovery in the few weeks the Tevatron has left — about a particle also being chased in Europe.</p><p>"The big thing going on right now in terms of particle physics is the so-called race for the Higgs boson," says Fermilab physicist Rob Roser, who explains that the Higgs is a particle that could answer one of the big mysteries of science: why things have mass. "So we're just hanging on, trying to get every last collision we can before we turn off to see whether we can make a statement, an important statement about it."</p><p>"We want to go out sprinting across the finish line, not crawling," Roser adds.</p><p><strong>A unique time in history</strong></p><p>Even so, the end is looming for the Tevatron. Researchers here are reminded of that every time they go to have lunch.</p><p>Right next to the main cafeteria at Fermilab is a new control room with a glass wall. People walking by can look in and see computer monitors linked to the Large Hadron Collider. This is so scientists can run experiments remotely on the huge European machine, which the United States contributed money to help build.</p><p>"It's a very important part of the American program, to actually exploit the Large Hadron Collider," says Pier Oddone, the director of Fermilab. "I would say the mood of the community is that this is a unique time in the history, that we're opening a regime where all of a sudden, we have access to 10 times the energy that we could produce here at the Tevatron."</p><p>That doesn't mean American scientists aren't sad at losing the status that comes with having the world's best physics machine. Oddone would like to see the next big physics machine built right here. But that's no easy task when budgets are shrinking for the physical sciences. After all, Europe's Large Hadron Collider cost around $10 billion.</p><p>"It just simply seems very difficult, given debt issues, deficits and all of that, to ask for the required increases that we would need to build the biggest machine," says Oddone.</p><p><strong>Getting back to no. 1</strong></p><p>So instead of a bigger machine that can produce even more powerful collisions, folks at Fermilab hope to build something different: a new machine that would produce a record number of collisions. Having lots and lots, even if they're less powerful, should let scientists see rare events that hardly ever happen.</p><p>The proposed new accelerator is called Project X. In a concrete bunker painted mint green, researchers at Fermilab are already testing new technologies that would be needed for Project X, which would cost a couple billion dollars and would do things the collider in Europe can't. It would be the best facility in the world for studying tricky particles like neutrinos.</p><p>"As long as, you know, there's a commitment in the U.S. to be a world player in particle physics, which I gotta believe there is, Project X is going to have to be built," says Steve Holmes, who manages the Project X effort.</p><p>If Project X gets funding, it could be built by the end of this decade — and Holmes hopes it will.</p><p>"You know, we don't always have to be no. 1. It's natural that the lead goes back and forth across the ocean," says Holmes. "But I think we've always got to be in a position, when the lead went some place else, we've got to plan to get it back here."</p><p>Once the Tevatron shuts down, officials say it won't be disassembled right away. Instead, its tunnel will be opened up to the public as a kind of museum — to let people see the vast equipment that once revealed incredibly tiny parts of the universe.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Mon, 05 Sep 2011 23:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-05/final-smash-americas-giant-particle-collider-91536